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RESEARCH INTERESTS

In recent years, experimentation has come to the forefront of the research agenda of scholars in strategy and entrepreneurship, and it is more clearly emerging as a way to gradually solve uncertainty and produce validated learning. While theoretical work outlines that entrepreneurship – especially in the early stages – is essentially about experimentation, we are yet to understand its consequences and impact on entrepreneurs.

 

Throughout my research,  I examine the effect of emerging practices such as accelerators, hackathons, and crowdfunding often in collaboration with government entities and incubation hubs. I have been managing research projects funded by institutions such as the UK government (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), the Italian government (Ministry of Education, University and Research), the Strategy Research Foundation, and the Innovation Growth Lab.  My work also aims to identify a set of practices that can help entrepreneurs navigate the difficult process of new venture creation. 

 

An overview of my research work is provided below:

A Scientific Approach to Entrepreneurial
Decision-Making: Evidence from a Randomized Control Trial

With Arnaldo Camuffo, Alessandro Cordova and Alfonso Gambardella

A classical approach to collecting and elaborating information to make entrepreneurial decisions combines search heuristics such as trial and error, effectuation, and confirmatory search. This paper develops a framework for exploring the implications of a more scientific approach to entrepreneurial decision making. The panel sample of our randomized control trial includes 116 Italian startups and 16 data points over a period of about one year. Both the treatment and control groups receive 10 sessions of general training on how to obtain feedback from the market and to gauge the feasibility of their idea. We teach the treated startups to develop frameworks for predicting the performance of their idea and to conduct rigorous tests of their hypotheses, very much as scientists do in their research. We let the firms in the control group, instead, follow their intuitions about how to assess their idea, which has typically produced fairly standard search heuristics. We find that entrepreneurs who behave like scientists perform better, pivot to a greater extent to a different idea, and do not drop out less than the control group in the early stages of the startup. These results are consistent with the main prediction of our theory: a scientific approach improves precision – it reduces the odds of pursuing projects with false positive returns, and increases the odds of pursuing projects with false negative returns.

Management Science, available here

Covered by Harvard Business Review, here and here and here

Covered by Quartz, here

Contact Me

spina.chiara [at] phd.unibocconi.it

Small Changes with Big Impact: Experimental Evidence of a Scientific Approach to the Decision-Making of Entrepreneurial Firms

With Arnaldo Camuffo and

Alfonso Gambardella

Job Market Paper

Identifying the most promising business ideas is key to the introduction of novel firms, but predicting their success can be difficult. We argue that if entrepreneurs adopt a scientific approach by formulating problems clearly, developing theories about the implications of their actions, and testing these theories, they make better decisions. Our theory predicts that the scientific approach corrects the problem of overestimation and underestimation of the returns from business ideas. This has implications for important entrepreneurial choices, such as discontinuing a business idea and pivoting, as well as for performance. Using a field experiment with 251 nascent entrepreneurs attending a pre-acceleration program, we examine the effect of a scientific approach to decision-making. In the field experiment, we teach the treated group to formulate the problem scientifically and to develop and test theories about their actions, while the control group follows a standard training approach. We collect 18 data points on the decision-making and performance of all entrepreneurs for 14 months. Results show that treated entrepreneurs are more likely to close their start-up. We also find that scientific entrepreneurs are more likely to pivot a small number of times, suggesting that the scientific approach makes them more precise in pivoting to more valuable ideas. Finally, we find that the scientific approach increases revenue, suggesting that a more accurate assessment of ideas helps entrepreneurs to make better decisions and eventually leads to better performance. This study shows that the scientific approach is a critical link between decision-making and performance of nascent entrepreneurs.

​Finalist, Best Conference Paper Award, SMS Minneapolis

Finalist, Research Method Award, SMS Minneapolis

Revise and resubmit, Organization Science

Latest version available here

Contact Me

spina.chiara [at] phd.unibocconi.it

When do Entrepreneurs Benefit from Acting Like Scientists? A Field Experiment in the UK

With Elena Novelli

Prior research suggests that firms in entrepreneurial settings benefit from a scientific approach to decision making that combines cognitive and evidence-based components. But to what extent and under what conditions is the scientific approach to decision-making associated with superior performance? To address this question, we conducted a field experiment with 261 UK entrepreneurs at different stages of business development, training half of them on a scientific approach to decision making. Our results show that firms make the most of scientific decision-making when they are at a more advanced stage of development, as they generate higher revenues and productivity. We elaborate on the mechanisms behind this result and the implications for future research.

Academy of Management Best Paper Proceedings 2021
Distinguished Paper Award Winner, Knowledge and Innovation, Academy of Management 2021
Best Conference Paper Award Winner at the Strategic Management Society Conference 2021
Best Conference Paper Award Winner at the DRUID Conference 2021

Revise and resubmit, Strategic Management Journal

Latest version available here

Contact Me

spina.chiara [at] phd.unibocconi.it

A Scientific Approach to Innovation Management: Evidence from Four Field Experiments

With Arnaldo Camuffo, Alfonso Gambardella, Danilo Messinese, Elena Novelli, Emilio Paolucci

Our model shows that managers and entrepreneurs make better decisions under uncertainty if they adopt a scientific approach in which they formulate and test theories. The model predicts that they are more likely to terminate projects with negative returns, commit to projects with positive returns, or pivot to projects with higher returns. We test these implications by combining the results of four Randomized Control Trials (RCTs) involving 754 start-ups and small-medium enterprises and 10,730 data points over time. The empirical analysis corroborates the predictions of the model.

 

Under review, Journal of Political Economy

Latest version available here

Contact Me

spina.chiara [at] phd.unibocconi.it

Sharing Stories About Venture Creation: How Crowdfunding Audiences React to Experimentation and Planning in Entrepreneurial Narratives

With Charlie Williams

Early-stage entrepreneurs must mobilize resources and support to develop their business. Our study focuses on how narratives related to experimentation and planning affect success in mobilizing resources. Using data from a leading crowdfunding platform and two online experiments, we find that novice entrepreneurs – those who lack prior experience on the platform – who describe an experimental strategy for developing their venture are more likely to raise funds than others, but this positive effect goes away with experience. On the other hand, planning narratives are beneficial for both novice and experienced entrepreneurs, and even increase their impact for experienced entrepreneurs. Through this study, we show that narratives including the “how” of venture creation – experimentation and planning – are valued by important audiences, but that their effect depends on the experience of the entrepreneur in different ways. With the growing emphasis among entrepreneurs on experimentation and lean start-up techniques, this research clarifies the contingent ways in which narratives about these activities can help nascent entrepreneurs gain access to resources as well as the risk they carry for those with more experience.

Under review, Organization Science

Latest version available here

Contact Me

spina.chiara [at] phd.unibocconi.it

What does Scientific Experimentation Mean for Entrepreneurial Performance? Evidence from a Field Experiment and Text Analysis

Recent evidence suggests that scientific experimentation is highly beneficial for entrepreneurs, but that it does not come naturally to them. Conducting experiments is, in fact, challenging for entrepreneurs, as experiments require careful design and cognitive flexibility in order to produce learning. This paper focuses on the process of experimentation that entrepreneurs go through as they assess the feasibility of their business ideas and develop them into fully-fledged start-ups, to understand what mechanisms drive the performance effects of scientific experimentation. I utilise a field experiment with early-stage entrepreneurs to identify the mechanisms behind scientific experimentation. In this field experiment with 250 early-stage entrepreneurs, half of the participants of a pre-acceleration programme learn a scientific approach to experimentation. The control group, meanwhile, attends the same course but is left free to follow a heuristic approach. I analyse the transcripts of interviews that the entrepreneurs undertake with a member of the research team to provide information about their decision-making practices, their experiments, and their performance. The treatment and control groups are balanced at baseline, but results based on content analysis of the interviews show that treated entrepreneurs display less confidence, less certainty, more precision, more analytical thinking, and more feelings of negativity compared to the control group. This study focuses on the trade-offs that entrepreneurs face between economic gains and psychological costs as they experiment and make crucial choices to develop their start-ups.

Data analysis stage

Contact Me

spina.chiara [at] phd.unibocconi.it

A Theory of Entrepreneurial Action:

A Scientific Approach to Entrepreneurial Decision Making

With Arnaldo Camuffo, Alfonso Gambardella, Danilo Messinese and Elena Novelli

This paper focuses on the strategic decisions nascent entrepreneurs make under conditions of uncertainty. The key agreement in the literature is that when uncertainty is high, non-predictive strategies result in superior outcomes. We introduce an adaptive type of predictive strategy – labelled a scientific approach to decision making - and show that this approach can fare well under conditions on uncertainty if the cost of articulating a prediction is low. When entrepreneurs use a scientific approach, they develop theories and hypotheses about the implications of their actions and test these theories. In using this predictive yet adaptive approach, they can make better decisions even in conditions of high uncertainty. We articulate a series of testable propositions on the implications of this approach.​

Manuscript in preparation for submission, target: Academy of Management Review

Contact Me

spina.chiara [at] phd.unibocconi.it

Fostering a Creative Experimental Environment through Hackathons: a Field Experiment

With Shanming Liu and

Danilo Messinese

While previous research has shown that entrepreneurial teams can benefit from diversity, research in this area has consistently shown that most founding teams are highly homogenous. As a result, the initial homogeneity within an entrepreneurial team can potentially limit access to heterogeneous information sources and constrain the range of viewpoints that can be generated. This is likely to hurt creative performance, which is typically observed in the initial stages of new venture foundation, when entrepreneurial teams are attempting to identify a viable business idea. In bringing together insights from literature on creativity and early-stage entrepreneurship, we are looking to gain a better understanding of what helps entrepreneurs generating and selecting viable business ideas. In order to gather causal evidence in a realistic setting, we are planning to conduct a field experiment embedded within a hackathon in November 2019.

Field experiment conducted in November 2019, data analysis stage 

Contact Me

spina.chiara [at] phd.unibocconi.it

 

Contact Me

chiara [ dot ] spina [ at ] insead [ dot ] edu